When U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR) spoke at a town hall meeting in Lostine May 30, he referred to a $500 million bill that passed out of Congress in 2009 to provide jobs for displaced timber workers.

With $7,140,782 of that total being Oregon’s allotted amount for the work, not one worker from Oregon was given a job to do tree planting or tree thinning work, said Merkley in Lostine.

Four contractors submitted low bids to accomplish the work as set out in the Stimulus Bill of 2009.

The state communications director for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (OR,) Tom Towslee, says, “They gamed the system. They had no intention of hiring unemployed American workers.”

According to Sen. Wyden’s state communication director the contractors placed ads for workers in obscure newspapers in distant locales where displaced timber workers in Oregon were not likely to see the advertisements.

Merkley stated in Lostine that contractors added their own stipulations as to who could get hired; one of them being that workers must speak Spanish as a second language.

Towslee stated his opinion that many workers hired to do the work were illegal aliens. “The goal of the bill was achieved, but not the spirit,” he said.

Trying to correct the loophole that allowed the four contractors to “game the system,” the American Jobs in American Forests Act of 2012 (S. 2167) has been introduced.

That proposed bill would authorize a process where U.S. workers would be recruited for such work ahead of others. The bill would prohibit the Secretary of Labor from granting temporary labor certification to nonagricultural workers until it’s determined that U.S. nationals are neither qualified nor available to perform the work.

In a poignant letter sent earlier this year from Sen. Merkley to Tom Tidwell, chief of the United States Forest Service, Merkley said, “The USFS should carefully consider the hiring practices and community involvement of contractors bidding for these projects so the desired economic impact is full realized.”

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